That Time You Asked Ben & Jerry’s Cofounder About Political Contributions

Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s, stopped in Sarasota, Fla., in 2013 to talk about “stamping” money out of politics.

It seemed groovy, but Cohen also contributed cash to political donations. And so did the ice cream maker’s parent company, but the Vermont-based operation seemed to keep its nose clean.

Just shows you how there are no easy answers to politics.

Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder Stamps Money Out Of Politics In Sarasota

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen greeted Sarasota visitors with his Amend-O-Matic StampMobile Friday night.

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Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen arrived in St. Armands Friday to put his own stamp on the American political system.

Cohen came with his Amend-O-Matic StampMobile that’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, sending dollar bills through a contraption, stamping them with messages to help influence people to ask their lawmakers to overturn the Citizens United decision, giving corporations the power to donate endlessly to political campaigns and political action committees.

“Stamp Stampede is part of the larger movement to pass a Constitutional Amendment that corporations are not people, and money is not speech,” Cohen told Patch inside the St. Armands Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Scoop Shop. Cohen is in the midst of an extensive road tour with the truck, having just arrived in Sarasota from the Miami area, and will hit the road again Saturday.

Yet, with his movement, he’s using money to act as a vehicle for free speech with messages like “Stamp Money Out of Politics.”

“The goal of the campaign is to get tens of thousands of Americans to get these tamps—they can get these stamps online at StampStampede.org—and stamp money  that comes in their possession because it’s like a petition on steroids,” Cohen said.  “Every dollar that you stamp gets seen by 800 people. You stamp five five dollar bills a day, that’s 4,000 people that see it. If you do that for 100 days, that’s 400,000 people, and if you do that over a year, that’s a million impressions and that’s just one person.”

Cohen’s visit came through a surprise call through his assistant this week, Almarode said. After a few quick calls, Cohen told Almarode he wanted to come out to the Gulf Coast of Florida to gain some exposure for his Stamp Stampede, and from there, they used the organic approach to spread the word through community radio WSLR.

“Jerry’s very like minded, too, supporting community radio,” Almarode said.

This is the first time that Cohen has visited the Scoop Shop since 1996, Almarode said. Jerry Greenfield has visited the shop multiple times through the years, he added.

“Rick has been one of our best franchisees, and I met him at the last franchise meeting,” Cohen told Patch. ” He has really cool Ben & Jerry’s memorabilia that he’s been collecting and one of our better shops.”

Cohen’s visit isn’t a Ben and Jerry’s company sponsored event, however. It’s really a part of Cohen’s own nonprofit he founded called Stamp Stampede, which sells stamps at-cost to people they can use to legally stamp their money with messages to get the word out that corporations should not be allowed to endlessly donate to political campaigns and action committees.

“I know this was successful when those bills started to come back to me,” Cohen said. “At the beginning, people were waiting for that to happen, and it wasn’t happening. Now we’re getting reports that those bills are circulating.”

However, Ben and Jerry’s has its own campaign called “It’s time to Get The Dough Out of Politics” where postcards are available at the Scoop Shop in St. Armands and other shops for customer to fill out to tell their Congressmen to take money out of politics, by partnering with the national non-partisan organization Free Speech For People.

Ben & Jerry’s got caught up in the corporate world now, though, being acquired by the British and Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2001, but has been able to remain relatively autonomous in that structure.

Unilever has contributed $38,132 from 2011 through third quarter of 2012 to campaigns, mainly Democrats, but $500 did to go Gov. Mitt Romney, according to InfluenceExplorer.com. Barack Obama’s campaign received $15,620, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, covering Pompano Beach, received $5,000, according to the website.

Cohen himself has donated $155,773 of his own money to federal campaigns since 1988, according to NewsMeat.com’s database.

Cohen, who said he doesn’t have much influence at Ben and Jerry’s anymore, said he doesn’t view being in that position of donating as a conflict with his message.

“Do I see a conflict? I don’t see a conflict at all. I guess that’s one of the hallmarks of Ben and Jerry’s. Corporations are very political animals. They are working really hard. They’re the people who finance all the lobbyists in Washington. They’re very much trying to influence the government in their own narrow self-interests,” Cohen said. “The hallmark of Ben and Jerry’s is that it tries to use its power as a corporation in the interest of the community as a whole, not in its own narrow self interests. That’s worked pretty well, and the company’s done alright.”

The company and Cohen’s non-profit doesn’t ask the stores or franchise owners to support the causes, Almarode said, but he does believe in equality and social justice.

“I would never buy into this if it was partial to one side,” Almarode said.

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